There is an assumption by many that medication is not only the best treatment for those who have ADHD, but, is, in fact, the only treatment. Fortunately, there is a wide range of options – from fish oil to zinc, from brain training to behavior therapy – worth trying when seeking to improve ADHD symptoms.
The editors of ADDitude magazine have compiled some information which should be considered when looking for the best treatment option for those with ADHD as there is no one size fits all solution available. These suggestions are considered natural alternatives to medicine.
Alternatives to Medicine: While medication is a valuable tool for managing the core symptoms of ADHD, it is not the only treatment option available. Some alternative therapies involve diet and lifestyle changes, while others use technology to train the brain to be more focused and less impulsive. For many, the optimum treatment plan includes several approaches.
Be Open to Treatment Options: Duke University’s Dr/ David Rabiner says, “There’s no way to predict in advance if a child or adult will be helped by any individual treatment, even medication.” He stresses the importance of monitoring your symptoms (and those of your child) to know what is working. He adds that it is critical to be open to a variety of changes in diet, exercise, sleep habits and more in an effort to perfect the best plan for you and/or your child.
Behavior Therapy: This is a structured discipline strategy that aims to teach children new ways of behaving by rewarding the desired behavior, such as following directions, and eliminating undesired actions, such as losing homework. The American Psychological Association says behavior therapy should be the first line of treatment for children under five; however, it can be effective for older children as well.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are important in both brain and cell function. People have to get these through diet and supplements as the body is unable to make omega-3 fatty acids by itself. There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, EPA and DHA. The best supplements have two or three times more EPA than DHA.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy aims to change irrational or negative thought patterns that get in the way of remaining on task or getting things done – two major obstacles for ADHDers. For the person with ADHD who thinks, “This has to be perfect or it’s not any good” or “I never do anything right,” CBT challenges the veracity of those thoughts by getting the patient to examine the evidence.
Protein: Protein prevents surges in blood sugar that may increase hyperactivity, and assists in producing attention-boosting neurotransmitters. High fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes can help stabilize energy levels. If you or your child is taking a stimulant medication, a low-fat breakfast will maximize the meds’ effectiveness. Fats can cause the body to absorb the medication more slowly, delaying its effectiveness.
Iron, Zinc and Vitamins C and B6: Several key minerals and vitamins are key to producing and regulating neurotransmitter levels in the brain, especially when a child or adult is deficient in one of them. Vitamin C is a building block of neurotransmitters, while iron and vitamin B6 increase dopamine levels. Zinc regulates dopamine, and may help the stimulant medication methylphenidate work more effectively.
Exercise: A well-known benefit of exercise is an increase in endorphins, which can improve mood. Exercise also raises the levels of dopamine, norepinephrene and serotonin in the brain, which increases focus and attention. Walking for 30 minutes four times a week will do the trick, but skill-based exercises like martial arts or ballet are especially effective for those with ADHD.
Brain-Training Programs: Software programs, like Cogmed, may improve working memory-the ability to hold information in your mind long enough to accomplish a goal (like remembering a phone number long enough to dial it). There are other brain training programs which may reduce impulsitivity and increase attention. The program games look and feel like video games, but are designed to exercise parts of the brain that are not working at their optimum level.
Green Time: Studies have shown that spending 20 minutes a day in nature may improve ADHD symptoms in kids and adults. Green time is especially effective in helping kids recover from attention fatigue, which occurs after long periods spent in school. Biking to school or work, gardening and walking the dog in the park are all good ways to incorporate green time in your day.
Neurofeedback: This is a high-tech method to manage ADHD symptoms. During a session, the patient dons an electrode-lined cap, then is asked to perform a complex task. The aim is to teach patients to produce brain-wave patterns associated with focus. While sessions are brief (30 minutes) and painless, they are expensive. A course of treatment can cost between $2,000 to $5,000.
Mindfulness: This is attention/awareness training that helps one manage stress, develop positive emotions and strengthen self-regulation skills. It involves silent meditation and becoming more aware during daily activities (staying in the moment). In one study, mindfulness training improved attention and lowered anxiety and depression in ADHD adults and adolescents.
For additional information on alternative therapies for ADHD, Google the following articles: The ADHD Food Fix; Supplements and Vitamins for ADHD; and Your ADHD-Friendly Meal Plan.